A 3D rendering of Taipei's downtown area on Google Maps.

Netizens soon discovered a number of missile defense batteries and other military installations ringing Taipei after Google Maps expanded its three-dimensional image stock to cover major cities in Taiwan.

This has triggered the island’s Defense Ministry to ask the US tech giant to obscure images of sensitive sites, according to Taiwanese papers.

The enhanced function, which went partially online late last week, allows users to zoom in and view buildings and other landmarks in a realistic bird’s eye view in cities including Taipei, New Taipei City, Taoyuan and Taichung, where satellite and aerial imagery has been digitized and converted into true-to-life 3D renderings.

These Taiwanese cities are the latest addition to Google Maps’ 3D renderings covering major cities across Asia, on top of Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore.

For instance, details of streets and building facades and layouts in Taipei’s Shilin district and New Taipei City’s Sindian district – home to the National Security Bureau compound and several missile defense batteries defending the capital city – are now visible to all users, including those on the mainland, where Google Maps is not banned.

Moreover, the US-made MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile launchers in Taipei’s Ankeng district, among others, are clearly recognizable on the high-definition open-source map app.

Google Maps’ 3D rendering of the compound of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau in Taipei’s Shilin district.
MIM-104 Patriot missile launchers at a military base in Taipei.

A source in the military told the Taipei Times that the force had beefed up concealment and camouflage efforts to protect key venues and installations from the prying eyes, but he refused to elaborate further.

The island’s defense minister, Yen Teh-fa, has also told lawmakers that what you see on a map is not necessarily what you get: A military camp’s layout during peacetime does not indicate its specific tactics and deployment when at war.

He added that agile mobile missile launchers, such as the Patriot and the indigenous Tien Kung III, had been favored over fixed systems, thus intelligence about their location and deployment would be of less significance, as they could easily be relocated.

Other Taiwanese officials revealed that in the past they had asked Google to pull sensitive telemetric images regarding national security and the military, and the US firm was compliant and cooperative most of the time.

In 2016, Taiwan asked Google to blur out part of Taiping Island, aka Itu Aba, a strategically located atoll in the center of the South China Sea occupied by its seamen.

It is also said that in 2012, Taiwan asked Apple to “wipe out” a radar base in the northern city of Hsinchu, home to a cutting-edge US-made radar capable of tracking missiles launched as far away as northwestern China’s Xinjiang region.

It is not the first time that ultra-high-definition imaginary featured by the Google service has ruffled the feathers of a foreign government. Seoul has reportedly demanded that Google blot out the Blue House, the South Korean presidential residence, on its maps and navigation platforms.

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